For boys and girls basketball fans in Illinois, the past few days have been an emotional roller coaster.
There was a gut punch on Tuesday, when Gov. JB Pritzker announced that basketball was being moved from a "medium risk" to a "high risk sport" by the Illinois Department of Public Health, in regards to COVID-19. It was seen as another stumbling block at best, and a death knell at worst, toward having boys and girls basketball for the 2020-21 winter sports season.
A special board meeting by the Illinois High School Association on Wednesday, however, brought good news, as far as having some type of basketball season. The board will follow the guidance of the IHSA Sport Medicine Advisory Committee to proceed with a season that is slated to begin Nov. 16, the first day teams can practice.
The first games can be played Nov. 30, and they will look like none before them. All players, coaches and officials will be wearing protective masks during play. There will be social distancing for the bench players.
Spectator and group gatherings for all winter sports will be addressed at a meeting of the board sometime in November.
The news that basketball will proceed starting Nov. 16 was music to the ears of local basketball coaches.
The Amboy girls figure to be one of the area’s top squads, with a host of experienced players back from a team that advanced to the Pecatonica Sectional final before losing to eventual state champion Eastland. Mike McCracken noted his players were bummed about Tuesday’s dire news from the governor’s office, but were sure to be happier a day later.
“We sure would love to have basketball at Amboy,” McCracken said. “We feel good about our players coming back, but I know they have been concerned about the voting. We’ve been having open gyms, and everybody is looking good early. Usually we wait until after volleyball is over until we do much basketball, and the girls are ready to go.”
Newman boys coach Ray Sharp is hopeful about the whole situation.
“I’m holding my breath, because the IHSA says go forward and the governor says not to,” Sharp said. “I don’t know which one is going to take precedent or what’s really going to happen. Is it going to go to court? It’s kind of hard to go against the governor. I would say I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Winter sports that have been deemed low risk will proceed as usual. They are boys swimming and diving, boys and girls bowling, girls gymnastics, cheerleading and dance.
Wrestling, a traditional winter sport, will be moved to the summer season that will run from April 19 to June 26, 2021.
Dixon coach Chris Bishop has spoken with other wrestling coaches around the area and state, and this change was anticipated, but not necessarily embraced.
“Nobody wants to move their season, but one of the tough things about the summer session is that I’ve got wrestlers that play baseball,” Bishop said. “Now those kids, unfortunately, are going to have to make a decision. It’s going to make it a little tougher for everybody involved.
“When you get into coaching, you want kids to do what they like to do, what they love to do. Unfortunately, I think this year, it’s going to change some things for people. We’re going to have to adjust. We don’t like it, but it is what it is.”
Polo Athletic Director Ted Alston said he was “pleasantly surprised” at the IHSA’s decision after expecting postponements for basketball. He believes the governing body trying to go ahead with the season is a positive for the players and the community.
“I think the IHSA and the governor are both trying to do what’s right,” Alston said. “The IHSA is doing it for the athletes. The governor is doing it for public health. It’s nice they thought it was important enough to do.”
Alston said he expects to see guidelines on what games and practices will look like by the end of the week. He believes Polo has the capabilities to abide by whatever is necessary and that it won’t be “that difficult.”
Alston hasn’t talked to any of his basketball players yet, but said they’ve been “chomping at the bit” to play again.
Wrestling being moved to the summer is something that was difficult for Alston to envision.
“It’s such a weird thing to think about, wrestling in the summer,” Alston said. “We just don’t really know where to go from here. Hopefully it works out. We’ll have kids that have to choose between baseball, track and wrestling. I worry some sports will suffer numbers-wise. It’s not a great option, but I respect it.”
Oregon Wrestling Coach Kip Crandall said he’s happy that an opportunity will still be provided for his kids. He also hopes COVID-19 issues will be further mitigated by then, but pointed out the conflict with other sports that athletes may have like Alston did.
Crandall was on his way to speak to his team when he was reached for comment Wednesday. He planned to be upfront with them about the decision.
“The coaching staff will meet and talk with the administration to talk about how to proceed through the winter,” Crandall said.
What wrestling will look like next summer remains to be seen, Crandall said.
“It’ll be new for all of us,” Crandall said. “I don’t think temperature will bother us. Competing in the region, if there will be all-day tournaments, which are crucial for preparing for state. It depends on what COVID-19 is doing and if we can do state.”
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